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The Making of Organic Rice

Rice is a staple food in many countries especially in Asia and the West Indies. Some people must simply have rice every day and would only consider a meal to be ‘complete’ if it is a rice dish. Thankfully, rice is grown and harvested annually and so is available all year round. You would have noticed when you go grocery shopping that there are many different types of rice in the market – brown rice, fragrant rice, glutinous rice and the list goes on – but which is the best for our consumption?

The answer is organic rice. Yes, we know by now that organic food is always the best for us; it is natural, healthy, wholesome and all that. But how exactly is organic rice, or all organic food, healthy and natural? Before we go into how organic rice benefits you and your family, it would be good to know how organic rice is produced. Knowing how might give you another reason for switching to organic rice.

Organic rice is produced from high quality non-genetically modified (GM) seeds. Genetically-modified food is bad for human consumption because the mutated genes have been found to be linked to cancer, allergy outbreaks and a weakened immune system. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) even warns of GM food putting unborn babies at risk of developing birth defects. It isn’t just the genetic structure that makes organic rice different; farmers planting organic rice practise methods different from that of conventional rice farmers’ from the time the seeds are planted until the time the rice reaches the consumers:

Fertilisation

No chemical-based fertilisers are used in the soil. Instead, a variety of natural measures are used for soil fertility maintenance and enhancement. Crop rotation is practised where plants capable of producing high amounts of nitrogen are planted alternating with paddy. Nitrogen, which is vital for the strength of plants’ foliage, can be easily obtained from deep-rooted legumes such as clovers, soybeans and millets. These plants are identified as nitrogen-boosting plants because the rhizobium bacteria in their roots take nitrogen directly from the atmosphere. Other natural sources rich in nitrogen are feather meal (a by-product of processing poultry made of feathers), cottonseed meal (a by-product of processing cotton) and rabbit droppings.

How you will benefit:

There are no chemicals to tarnish the water sources underground, so you are safe from the dangers of mercury, cadmium, lead and uranium poisoning. Chemical fertilizers also contain high amounts of nitrates and nitrites which have been linked to the blue-baby syndrome (decreased level of oxygen in the blood among young children) and miscarriages in pregnant women.

Pest control

Paddy plants, just like any other crop, are plagued by pests. Common pests are water weevils and shrimps. The weevils’ larvae stick to the young plants’ roots and damage the root system, which will affect the plants’ growth. On the other hand are shrimps which seem harmless but actually feed on the young sprouted paddy plants. In conventional farming, chemical pesticides are applied to keep the pests at bay but in organic farming, farmers implement a variety of methods to keep pests away. Some of the most common methods are planting companion crops to divert the pests, using pest-regulating plants, encouraging biological microorganisms and planting pest-resistant varieties.

How you will benefit:

By eliminating the use of pesticides from your rice, you are safe from having the various chemicals deposited in your colon. Pesticides are also responsible for Alzheimer’s disease, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and cancer. Even the nervous and reproductive systems are at risks from exposure to pesticides; children have been reported to suffer from defects caused by the passing of chemicals from mother to child during pregnancy and breast-feeding.

Weed management

Weeds are one of the main problems that organic farmers face as a result of not using chemical herbicides on their crops. However, they do have a way of preventing the weeds from competing with the paddy for water and nutrients. By knowing the weeds well, farmers will choose to increase the number of paddy seedlings to give them an advantage over the weeds, select varieties which will have an edge over the weeds or flame the weeds with heat. Sometimes, the easiest method is carried out – pulling out the weeds.

How you will benefit:

The effects of herbicide are similar to those of pesticides and fertilizers. Common ingredients found in herbicides include alachlor which causes cancer and anaemia, atrazine which leads to cardiovascular problems, endothall which is to be blamed for stomach and digestion discomfort, and lindane which harms the kidney and liver.

Harvest

Organic rice farmers usually produce brown rice, another healthier option that you can consider besides organic rice. Brown rice is produced when the outermost layer of the rice grain is removed. When the next layers of the germ and bran are removed, the regular white rice is produced. However, what makes brown rice healthier than the white option is that vitamins and minerals are removed along with the germ and bran.

How you will benefit:

While certain vitamins such as vitamins B1 and B3 are added back into the rice as required by the food authorities, minerals such as magnesium are lost forever in the process of producing white rice. Magnesium is vital for the strengthening of the bones and teeth, production of energy in the body, regulation of body temperature and transmission of nerve impulses. So you’d get all those of goodness by consuming brown rice.

Rice bran oil is another substance removed from brown rice. The oil will benefit those who are battling high levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.

Storage

Steamers are used to dry rice kept in storage. Rice, just like most other food items and even raw material, cannot keep long in damp conditions. The temperature is kept optimal to prevent the deterioration of rice quality and to minimize the attack of insects. Most insects cannot live at temperatures under 14°C or above 42°C. Storage methods for organic rice are also more stringent. Rice is supplied with cold air and stirred frequently during the winter in climatic countries to retain their freshness and moisture. It is also common for farmers to fill rice bins with natural food-grade carbon dioxide, a non-toxic gas used to keep away bugs from entering the bins.

How you will benefit:

You’d get good quality rice. It is quite a common grouse among housewives who buy bags of rice only to find the rice infested with tiny insects. With more quality control methods put into the storage of organic rice, you’d know that every effort was taken to maintain the freshness and quality of the rice.

Producing organic rice is indeed no easy task. Farmers are putting in more time and effort than required to produce crops that are healthy and safe for consumption, so consider switching to organic rice to appreciate those measures and to reap the health benefits intended.

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